I’m not a huge booze hound, but so many upcoming festivities are inextricably linked to having a good drink. On my birthday, I like to toast the older, wiser me with an ever-classy Manhattan.
Thanksgiving is the start of hot toddy sipping. Then I get into wine by the fireplace and bottles of bubbly for New Year’s Eve. Holiday party punch and cocktails with apple cider? Don’t mind if I do.
The parade of opportunities to hang out with my favorite people, often with a boozy drink in hand, is seemingly endless this time of year. Fun!
But add in the the stress drinking associated with the emotional and financial challenges of the holidays and it’s easy to get carried away.
Sad, but true: alcohol doesn’t do a body good. A raging hangover literally pounds this fact into your head. Dehydration, dried-out skin, compromised immunity, weight gain, and long-term liver damage are just a handful of the physical effects.
And then there’s the poor decision-making and general acting a fool that, for me, leads to ALL of the feelings coming out at once. (Or eating handfuls of potpourri thinking it’s a festive trail mix with Red Hots and cracking a tooth. Ah, memories!) I know my limits now, but it can still be challenging to stick to them in certain situations.
What really works for me, and what has led to success for a lot of my health-coaching clients, is practicing preventative measures and in-the-moment strategies that can help keep you within your limits.
About those limits: The Dietary Guideline for moderate alcohol consumption is one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. I find it easier to think of it as 5 to 7 per week for women and up to 12 -14 per week for men. One drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer (1 can or bottle), or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Now, Those Strategies...
1. Consider the "less is more" approach. I approach my drinks like I do my food. I suck at compromising on flavor or enjoyment, so I drink what I like, but I have less. For example, I’ll savor one excellent rye Old Fashioned, and then call it quits. If you have a hard time cutting yourself off after one, or nursing a drink isn’t your thing, then go with a less boozy drink and have a couple. Different situations may call for a different approach. Along those lines…
2. Plan your drinks. Walking into every drinking situation with the wishy-washy “I’ll just have a few” mindset doesn’t work. I recommend setting some intentions before you have a cocktail in hand. If you decide you’re going to have two drinks, you may have three, but you’re probably not going to have five. Also, consider which drinks are truly worth it. Maybe there are a few that you wouldn’t miss having. Would you rather the glasses of crappy wine at a work-related event or a shared bottle of great wine at dinner with a friend? Have a general plan in mind for the days ahead and factor in a few impulse drinks for the week, if your plans aren’t usually so concrete.
3. Pre-party with some healthy fats and complex carbs before you drink. These will slow down your body’s absorption of alcohol, so you don’t go from zero to tipsy in one drink. Avocado or nut butter on whole-grain bread. A handful of nuts with a banana. A baked sweet potato with coconut oil. It’s also helpful to eat something while you drink. Whatever you do, don’t pull the rookie move of drinking on an empty stomach.
4. Be fashionably late. Or get into the Irish goodbye. Arriving an hour late or bailing an hour before an event is over lessens your overall drinking time. I like this for events that may go on for hours, and it won’t be obvious if I’m not there for part of it (wedding receptions, huge birthday get-togethers). If you want to keep getting invites, don’t be the a-hole who pulls this at a seated dinner situation.
5. Go easy on mixed drinks with syrup, liqueur, tonic, soda, juice, or energy drinks. So many people ask me about the calorie content of alcohol, but it’s really the mixers that get us into trouble. The sugar content in most of them is unreal. Consider whiskey, gin, vodka, or tequila sipped neat or on the rocks. It’ll be strong, but that forces you to sip it slower.
6. Don't cheap out. Cheap booze leads to a killer hangover. The producers of high quality, top-shelf alcohols filter out more impurities, so go with those as often as your wallet allows.
7. Bubbly water with bitters. Want a drink that’s cocktail-ish, but simpler and much less boozy? Get into bitters. They come in a zillion flavors (I like the handcrafted BitterCube and Cecil & Merl varieties), and you just add a few dashes to soda water, toss in a wedge of citrus and you’ve got yourself a low-alcohol, but still tasty cocktail. Bonus: bitters are made from plant extracts so they have beneficial properties that make them a good digestion aid and stress remedy.
8. Order a single in a double glass. This works well for simple drinks like vodka soda. The liquor amount stays the same, but you’ll get double the soda, essentially watering it down a bit.
9. Have a full glass of water in between drinks. Some of the most noticeable side effects of getting snockered--headache, sloth-like lethargy, corpse-like pallor--are caused by dehydration. Finishing a full glass of water before and after every cocktail can hydrate you, flush out toxins quicker, slow down your alcohol intake and make your next morning a lot less hellish.
10. Sip your drink slowly. Your liver can only process about a ½-ounce of pure alcohol per hour (give or take a bit depending on body size and food intake), so pounding it with more is super taxing on your body. This is why shots are such an eff you to your body. I try to keep it to one drink per hour. If I’m having a full glass of water in between each drink, this timing is totally reasonable.
11. Drink buckets of water before you go to bed. Yep, more water. Maybe not buckets, but definitely several glasses. This may lead to middle-of-the-night bathroom trips, but I’ll take that over feeling like garbage when I wake up the next morning.
- Which of these would make the biggest difference for you?
- Do you have any go-to strategies for keeping yourself in check with the dranks?